What can we do to help with this process in the online learning environment?
Regardless of if you are working with children or adults it appears to me that people whose talents and gifts are acknowledged tend to stay in engaged in whatever context they are in. I have experienced this first hand in working with children of all backgrounds, and teaching within an Aboriginal context.
A place where this type of information can emerge in an online setting is during the introductory week when students are asked to post an introduction of themselves and/or update their profile with a description of themselves. Instead of asking for a general intro. perhaps an instructor can direct students to include information such as interests, talents, roles, etc. From that information instructors can formulate assignments, discussions, etc. that are relevant to the student body. There may also be an opportunity to have individuals with a particular gift or talent lead discussions in an area that is of interest to them and relevant to the course. As an example, in one of my classes on interpersonal communication it became very obvious to me on day 1 that we had a real storyteller in our midst. I acknowledged this immediately and during the phase of the course where students were to present chapter material to the class I assiged her one that would blend naturally with her ability to tell stories. In this case I was able to take the course content and have someone with a unique talent deliver it in a way that was both informative and engaging.
This would be an interesting moodle plug-in, actually, for the profiles. I am sure in many instances people would find that they are connected in ways that they either didn't know or had forgotten. And they might start talking about their relatives/friends in their assignments.
I was told, when I was doing field work in a FN community, that it was important that I be forthcoming with (and therefore aware of) my family - even if it was highly unlikely that anyone I met would know them. It wasn't about knowing them it was knowing that I was the kind of person who could talk knowledgeably about "my people."
This would build on that attitude. And isn't learning honouring your ancestors?